Pianigiani aims to take Siena all the way

Montepaschi's coach looks ahead to this weekend's Euroleague semifinal against Maccabi TA.

maccabi ta 224 88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
maccabi ta 224 88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
On Friday Maccabi Tel Aviv will face in-form Italian team Montepaschi Siena in the semifinals of the Euroleague. Some may see the team's head coach Simone Pianigiani as the new kid on the block at this year's Final Four, but he's hardly concerned with what others think. After quickly building Montepaschi into an Italian powerhouse, the 38-year-old - in just his second season in charge - will lead the club back to the season ending tournament for the first time since 2004 and is targeting a first Euroleague crown for his hometown club. With an entire roster that buys into his defensive and team-first philosophies, Montepaschi has created plenty of believers along the way. "We didn't think about the Final Four because our philosophy since the beginning of the season was to take one game at the time and try to discover our potential game by game," Pianigiani told Euroleague.net. "When you see that you can play at the same level as those teams, it can only be good for the players and their confidence." Montepaschi just missed the chance to play Maccabi in the 2004 title game in Tel Aviv after losing to Skipper Bologna by a single point in the semis. Now is time for the Italians to make a point. "Maccabi is maybe the only team that we never were able to beat," Pianigiani noted. "It is a great chance for us, because many times as assistant coach, we had close games against them that went down to the final minute and we always lost. If we are able to arrive in the same situation, with a close game until the final seconds, maybe we will have the luck on our side. "It is always nice to play against Maccabi, because they have good fans and great tradition. It will be a good game and everyone is motivated to play against them." The coach appears quietly confident ahead of the crucial clash with the Israeli champion. "[Reaching this stage] means a lot, of course, because we deserve to be here. We are happy to have made it to the Final Four, but also because we had the chance to show that we can play against any team in Europe face-to-face," he said. "We challenged the best teams in Europe to be in the Final Four. This is most important for us: that we are in Madrid not because of a special situation or because we were in really good shape for one month at the right time. We made it because we played strong all season long, overcoming tough moments." With no stars and relatively little experience at this level, few people chose Montepaschi as a Final Four team before the season started or even in the middle of it. However, Pianigiani saw the potential from the start. He said: "I think that the most important reason is that there are great people in the team with great work ethic. They work in the right way and listen. If you play like a team, you can face anybody. "Maybe sometimes it is easier against some teams that you know what to do in order to beat them, just stopping what they are good at." Even though this is Pianigiani's Euroleague debut as head coach, he was an assistant with two previous Montepaschi at the 2003 and 2004 tournaments. These experiences have clearly helped his preparation "First of all, I know there is a great atmosphere there. The Final Four is the most exciting situation for a coach in Europe. At the same time, I am happy that we don't play another Italian team in the semifinal, because we already lost against two of them in 2003 and 2004. "We were unlucky against them. In any case, the goal is that the atmosphere around the Final Four will not affect the team. We have to stay focused and approach the game like any other. If we play like this, we are ready to fight in the best way." Big man Ksistof Lavrinovic has been one of the most- effective per-minute players in the Euroleague this season and Pianigiani noted his significance. "Ksistof is one of our key players," he said. "Everyone is important for us because like I told you before, we are a group and every single part is important. "Lavrinovic makes our opponents change their point of view because he can play power forward and center. He can play in the low post and also shoot from outside, opening the court on our offense. "This is also the reason why he comes off the bench, because he can change the game every time he steps on court." Point guard Terrell McIntyre is recovering from surgery and the coach hopes he will be ready come the weekend. "Terrell has to check his situation with our doctors and medical staff during this week. He is very important for us. He has a big heart and played with physical problems until the end of the quarterfinal playoffs. "Even if he is not 100 percent, he will play because he wants to do it and everybody expects him to arrive in shape for the Final Four. We will have a final answer about his ankle by the end of this week." Pianigiani hails from Siena and said the atmosphere is building in the small city. "Everybody is crazy for basketball," he explained. "I don't know how many fans we have but people ask about tickets outside our gym every day. Everyone wants to come to Madrid and they all will be excited to follow their team in Madrid. "This is great for us, not everyone will be able to come to Madrid, but everyone in Italy will watch on TV. It is a responsibility, but we are very proud of this. "As someone who was born in Siena and raised in Mens Sana Basket, have you let yourself imagine what it would be like to return home with the title? What would it mean to the club to verify its great work this decade with a Euroleague title?" Courtesy of Euroleague.net